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Music

Dear Rachel

Advice for the Lovelorn, Appeasement for Band Mates, and Power Pop for the Masses—All in a Day’s Work for Visqueen’s Rachel Flotard

By Michael Alan Goldberg | Posted 2/9/2005

Visqueen opens for Neko Case with the Sadies.

At Rams Head Live Feb. 15

Forget Dr. Phil, Dear Abby, and Dan Savage. If you need a little extra guidance in life, Rachel Flotard is your gal. In addition to being the singer, guitarist, chief songwriter, and de facto business manager for the power-pop trio Visqueen, and holding down the title of “sassiest Seattleite,” Flotard has spent the last couple of years dishing wisdom-nuggets in “Love Is Hard,” a hilarious advice column appearing on threeimaginarygirls.com, a hugely popular web zine whose coverage of the local indie music scene regularly outshines that of Rain City’s daily and weekly papers.

Though her downtime has been dwindling of late as both Visqueen’s profile and travels outside of Washington increases, the tawny-haired, New Jersey-born singer remains dedicated to salving the wounds of the lovelorn, confused, and frustrated—folks like “Frustrated by Rushes of Blood to the Head,” who once wrote in to complain that her boyfriend insisted on spinning Coldplay every time he wanted to knock some boots.

Flotard’s ministration? “Can’t take the Cold, you need to burn down the igloo. As much as I hate to turn off VH-1 smack in the middle of his REI fantasy of jogging slo-mo on wussbag beach, Ahoy. Subtly suggest to DJ Sensitive Bedflames that you’d like some Lou Rawls instead. I guarantee that Gwyneth Paltrow, impregnated by the entire band and management team of Coldplay, feels like a little Foghat right about now. Imagine the stagnation. Her make-outs are probably sanctioned by Oprah but sponsored by AT&T and Bono. Should this not make one bucky dent in your lover’s mood music, just start keying his record collection.”

But for all her caustic wit, sage insight, and I-can-handle-most-anything attitude, Flotard herself was left momentarily stumped in December when Kim Warnick, bassist for their 4-year-old band, rang her up with some momentum-killing news on the eve of back-to-back North American tours with Neko Case and Shonen Knife (Visqueen’s biggest outing to date), and just a couple of months after the release of their second album, Sunset on Dateland (BlueDisguise), to glowing reviews.

“She calls and goes, ‘Sooo, what’re you doin’?,’” the singer recalls with a nervous laugh. “‘Oh, y’know, just having the usual coronary getting the dates together,’ I said. And then real quick she’s like, ‘Ummm, dude, I’m quitting.’ At first it totally didn’t register. And then once I got done understanding the situation I was completely like, ‘I am fucked, what the eff am I gonna do?’”

Losing one-third of your band just like that is traumatic enough, but when you’re talking about the departure of someone famous for her loyalty and dedication—not to mention a major component in pushing Visqueen to the top of the Seattle rock food chain and garnering attention for the trio—it’s no wonder Flotard was shitting a Chris Martin-sized brick.

A little backstory is in order: Prior to committing full-time to Visqueen at the beginning of 2002 (though she’d joined the band at their inception a year earlier), Warnick spent 23 years as singer for legendary Seattle rockers the Fastbacks. Though that band’s activity had waned a good deal, it took a lot for her to quit in favor of playing bass in a brand-new outfit, but once she heard Flotard’s songs she felt she couldn’t pass up the opportunity. For their part, Flotard and drummer Ben Hooker—who had previously played together in the buzz-punky Hafacat for three years (it made a fairly minor splash in Seattle, but did get to open for Corey Feldman’s band once)—were thrilled that such an icon wanted in on their action. The three instantly clicked on both a musical and personal level.

For the next couple of years, things went great. Visqueen’s 2001 self-released debut, King Me (reissued on BlueDisguise in ’03), introduced the band’s preternatural ability to hang gooey vocals and vulnerable lyrics on scrappy, irresistible fuzz-hooks and make you feel like every spry power-pop song that ever came before was of little consequence. Sunset on Dateland intensified that rush, and in between the trio shared stages with the likes of Cheap Trick, the New Pornographers, the Donnas, and Guided by Voices. Warnick’s veteran presence, reputation, and industry savvy didn’t hurt in getting gigs, a record deal, and press coverage, either.

Then came the phone call, which in retrospect, Flotard admits, shouldn’t have stunned her as much as it did. “I guess you could tell it was time. Kim was getting tired, getting lazy,” she says, stressing that the split was far from acrimonious. “[That] she feels like quitting sucks, but she just wants to have a normal life now.

“Believe me, we had our fights, but they were totally normal. They were based on, like, ‘You ate my Twizzlers!’ or some other shit that doesn’t matter. It was never, ‘God, I really wish you would stop cutting yourself.’ But I love Kim more than I love the band, and I love the band tremendously, so thank God we were smart enough to just let it be and save all the friendships.”

And in one way Warnick’s departure has been something of a blessing. Though Visqueen has ostensibly been Flotard’s baby since the start—she writes all the music and lyrics—the shadow of Warnick’s old band has always loomed large. The Fastbacks angle got played long after it was relevant, and critics consistently lunged for musical comparisons, despite the fact that the two groups had practically nothing in common save Warnick’s membership.

“Kim and I would always just be like, ‘Uhhh, what?!’ I know we don’t sound like the Fastbacks. Anyone who comes to see us and is familiar with the Fastbacks figures that out pretty quick,” Flotard says. “But there’s so many mouths and opinions in the world that as long as you can sleep and deal then you’re fine. People can compare us to whatever they want. I mean, if people were saying, ‘This sounds like the Monkees meets Jessica Simpson,’ I guess I would be pissed. But yeah, Kim leaving is kinda like us graduating, and now we get to try something new and see how it goes and how people react.”

Still, there was that pesky little matter of lining up a new bassist on extremely short notice. In a stroke of good fortune, Visqueen pal and Muffs bassist Ronnie Barnett came to Seattle for a visit the weekend Warnick quit, and he was drafted into the fold. Flotard is quick to point out that “the seven-foot-tall Woody Allen” is just on loan from the Muffs for the time being, unless Barnett decides to join up permanently.

And so, thankfully, the show is going forth, and based on Visqueen’s utterly crush-worthy sound and stage presence it’s likely their days of being a Pacific Northwest secret are coming to an end. But Flotard swears that even if Visqueen breaks huge she’ll still try to hang on to her day job as an advice columnist.

“I honestly do try and help people, but believe me, it’s also way funny and entertaining to me,” she laughs. “Some of the questions are from people I know, so I’ve been even more of a douche to them. But some stranger actually came up to me once at a show and was like, ‘Hey! You answered my question,’ and I had to run away. I didn’t wanna see the actual face of the person ’cause I was thinking, like, You are a dipshit.

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